Boston election wide open as Mayor White bows out

Bostonians, whose zest for city politics is second to none in the nation, are abuzz with speculation concerning who their next mayor might be. With four-term Mayor Kevin H. White's announcement that he won't seek a fifth term, the 10 candidates who stood ready to challenge him could now find themselves scrambling for votes in an even more crowded field.

As one of the nation's best-known and most politically durable mayors, Mr. White long has been the focal point of attention far beyond the bounds of Boston or even Massachusetts. He has been active in groups such as the National Democratic Conference of Mayors and the US Conference of Mayors, and was considered as a possible running-mate for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972.

New possible mayoral contenders include state Senate President William M. Bulger, who clearly had no intention of taking on Mayor White. He now may be rethinking whether to plunge into the sea of contenders for the city's top office.

Much could depend on whether any of those already running, few of whom are well-known citywide, jump to a significant lead in voter preference polls likely to be taken during the next several days.

Earlier this year it had been anticipated that should Mr. White chose not to run, former Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III might seek the post. Now, however, he makes it clear that he won't run.

But regardless of whether additional mayoral hopefuls emerge over the coming weeks, the complexion of next fall's Boston election campaign is bound to change: Candidates are more likely to focus on issues than on attacking Mayor White.

White's decision not to run caught most, if not all, of his would-be successors by surprise, leaving them and his other critics without a whipping boy.

Although there was little doubt that White would survive the September primary, many political observers said they felt it would be difficult for him to win the general election in November. Recent polls showed not only that voter support for various mayoral aspirants was greatly split, but, perhaps more significantly, White was not the front-runner.

The mayor, whose penchant for the unpredictable has marked his nearly quarter-century-long political career, made his announcement in a five-minute, prime-time paid appearance on Boston's major commercial television and radio stations.

Left unanswered in his presentation were his reasons for not seeking reelection and what his specific future plans might be.

White, whose political organization rivals that of any previous Boston chief executive or that of big-city mayors elsewhere, has been under increasing attack in recent years.

The US District Attorney's office currently is investigating the mayor's administration for possible corruption and questionable fund-raising activities. Within the past two years, two of White's political operatives have been convicted of fraud and currently are serving time in federal penitentiaries. In neither instance, however, was the mayor implicated.

Under the White regime, the face of the city, particularly downtown, has changed considerably. But this activity has not spilled over into the city's neighborhoods, and this fact has subjected White to major criticism, particularly from minorities. And throughout most of the White era, Boston has been buffeted with serious fiscal problems.

What his next pursuits will be when he leaves office at year's end is uncertain. But White has made it clear he has no intention of retiring from the political scene.

Yet he may have few options in the coming years, since the Massachusetts governorship, for which he campaigned unsuccessfully in 1970, is filled for the next three and a half years, along with other statewide offices.

A run for the Democratic nomination for US Senate in 1984 is a possibility, but that would involve taking on incumbent Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D), a liberal whose views on most issues appear similar to White's.

Some observers suggest that once free from mayoral responsibilities, Mayor White, a man of considerable political ambitions, just might mount a campaign to win his party's nomination for vice-president at the July 1984 Democratic National Convention.

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